When advising on scholarships, think — and act — locally
Are your students aware of the availability of local scholarships? It's a sure bet that many businesses and organizations in your community are interested in acknowledging local students by sponsoring scholarships, prizes or awards.
There are several advantages for students seeking out these awards: as part of a smaller pool, they face less competition than when applying for national scholarships and find it easier to ask questions or track the status of their applications.
This doesn't mean that you or your students should ignore national scholarships, but in general, the smaller the geographical area a scholarship covers, the better the student's chances of winning. Help students look for scholarships earmarked for graduates of your high school, town, county and state.
What you can do
- Encourage students to start the process early to allow time for researching and applying. Students should start looking in their junior year; many scholarship deadlines are in the fall.
- Encourage all your students to take the PSAT/NMSQT® in their junior year. Many National Merit Scholarships are determined by junior year PSAT/NMSQT scores and some private scholarship programs require students to take it.
- Be sure your students fill out the FAFSA, which is a requirement for nearly all scholarships.
- Keep records of scholarships that previous graduates have won and try to stay in contact with those award-granting organizations. Not only will this help you stay on top of any changes in eligibility requirements and deadlines, but it helps maintain good relations and keeps your school in their minds.
- Keep an updated file of any information about local awards and scholarships that you receive, and make it available to students.
- Coordinate local scholarships for your school if you don't have a community-based group such as "Dollars for Scholars." Make your own common scholarship form that community groups can use to allow your students to apply for multiple scholarships. Set up a faculty scholarship committee to select scholarship winners for community sponsors, if they so desire.
- Encourage students to jot down a list of their interests or draft a brief autobiography, including their activities and accomplishments. While some scholarships are solely based on academic achievement and financial need, others are based on ethnicity, club membership, athletic ability, community service, hobbies or interests. Others are based on future goals and plans. Having these elements on paper helps establish search parameters and identifies which scholarships might be a good fit.
- When a student does win a scholarship — especially if it's local — it's important for both you and the student to thank the donors with a personal note. Urge your student to let the committee know of successes in school. Maintaining this kind of contact helps donors know their funds were put to good use and encourages them to look favorably on your school's future applicants.
Where to look
Start with state or local agencies. These may offer scholarships to students who choose a public university, for example, or show an interest in government or public sector careers.
Almost every state has a scholarship program for residents — usually limited to students who attend in-state colleges. For example, the State of Florida offers Bright Futures scholarships to academically qualified Floridians who decide to attend in-state colleges and universities.
The Internet is a natural place to search. Our Scholarship Search includes state scholarships. Other sites include Scholarships.com, Fastweb, Sallie Mae and Peterson's. These online resources let you tailor a search by interest or geography, and offer updated information on what awards are available.
Your office should have copies of useful books to help students identify scholarships, such as our Scholarship Handbook. You should also have a list of additional resources students might find at a local public or college library.